Since 1904 the State Hygienic Laboratory has operated as Iowa’s public health laboratory, helping Iowans in all 99 counties by testing and screening for infectious diseases and environmental contaminants.

Located at the University of Iowa Research Park, the laboratory performed a total of 553,980 analyses in fiscal year 2015—77,463 in clinical testing, 146,304 in environmental testing, and 330,213 newborn screenings.

“What you don’t know can still hurt you,” said State Hygienic Laboratory Director Christopher Atchison.  “For more than 100 years, the Hygienic Laboratory has been providing scientific information that keeps people safe.”

In the Disease Control Division, the laboratory works with public health partners throughout the state to detect food-borne outbreaks, Ebola, meningitis, mumps, rabies, and other reportable diseases. The laboratory keeps a database of incidences of infectious diseases throughout the state to track outbreaks and help local officials stop the spread.

The laboratory’s care for the health of Iowans begins in the first few days of life.  Iowa babies, as well as those in North Dakota and South Dakota, are screened using a few drops of blood for more than 50 different conditions.  If left undetected and untreated, these conditions can have devastating health effects.  This testing is performed in the laboratory’s Ankeny facility and is part of the Iowa Newborn Screening Program. 

Many know the Hygienic Laboratory because of the work of its Environmental Health Division.  This division tests drinking water for many contaminants, including arsenic, E.coli, nitrate and lead, which can cause serious neurological problems.  It monitors the air for particulate matter that may be a health concerns for those with asthma, the elderly and the very young. It tests soil and aquatic life to measure the effects of pesticides. It is one of the few public health laboratories in the country that tests for pharmaceuticals in drinking water.

Education is another area emphasis. The laboratory is part of Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council and provides science education for K-12 students.  It offers CDC/APHL-funded fellowships for graduate and post-graduate students, internships for college students, and mentorships those in middle and high school. This gives students opportunities to learn in a laboratory setting and helps to build a future workforce.

“As one of a network of public labs around the country,” Atchison said, “the State Hygienic Laboratory is part of a system that works everyday – all day – to protect people from new and emerging threats like Zika and Ebola.”